Parallel Lives

By Munir

In 2005 the front cover of Time magazine displayed a photograph of Dr. A.Q. Khan under the heading “Merchant of Menace”. At the time Khan was under house arrest following a dramatic televised mea culpa which sent shockwaves around the world. Khan confessed to having been responsible for the worst acts of nuclear proliferation that the world had yet witnessed. Khan admitted to betraying the nation’s trust and selling nuclear secrets to North Korea, Libya & Iran amongst others. The then military government of Pervez Musharraf, to much scepticism was content to portray Khan as a solitary rogue scientist, and exonerated the military of any involvement or knowledge of the “Khan Network” as it later became known.

The revelations in the Washington Post this week of Khan alleging that the North Korean’s had paid him large sums of money and “jewellery” to be paid to at least 2 Pakistani General’s, confirmed the worst fears of most Pakistani’s. For a highly suspicious western audience already baying for blood following the discovery of Osama bin Laden living in a military garrison city some 20 miles from the nation’s capital, this was further evidence of double dealing and perfidy, to add to the growing list of Pakistani transgressions.
Investigations continue internationally at the scale and depth of the proliferation alleged to have been carried out by the Khan network. Another investigation continues within the Pakistan military to establish how high up the chain of command the corruption and pay offs permeated and who knew what & when.

Pakistani’s weary at their nation continually being portrayed as a rogue state & facing opprobrium from around the world, may be forgiven for wondering how it all came to this sorry state of affairs.

The lives of two Pakistani scientists who were inextricably linked to the Pakistani nuclear programme is worth examining to see how they mirror Pakistan’s divergence as a major ally of the west in the 50’ & 60’s, (member of NATO sister organisations SEATO & CENTO), to it’s current status as world pariah and nuclear proliferator.

Dr. Abdus Salam was a theoretical physicist and is Pakistan’s only Nobel Laureate . An outstanding & gifted student who dazzled his teachers and peers, Salam quickly rose up the ranks of academic excellence. He won a scholarship to Cambridge University in 1949 and excelled by gaining a double first and winning the prestigious Smith’s prize in Physics. The renowned scientist Sir Fred Hoyle advised Salam to stay on and continue his work at Cambridge. Salam, proud of his Pakistani/Muslim heritage and with a zeal to serve the nation, demurred and opted to return to Pakistan and take up an academic post at Government College, Lahore.

Those who knew Salam recall a Pakistani patriot who was both a scientific genius and a person who rejoiced in his Muslim cultural heritage. In his daily life he displayed the joie de vivre of a renaissance Sufi poet who relished reciting Urdu/Persian (Rumi) & English poetry, and regularly referred to the Quran as a source of inspiration in his study of Physics & science. Whilst Salam himself rejoiced in his Muslim roots, he faced one major difficulty. A section of Islamist opinion regarded him as a heretic because he belonged to the heterodox Ahmadi sect within Islam.

In 1953 fate intervened and Salam’s sojourn in Pakistan was interrupted as communal rioting against Ahmadi’s burst out in Lahore and martial law was declared in the Punjab. Salam unable to set up a research institute in Pakistan due to opposition from some of his peers left the country and returned to Cambridge. Salam’s stellar scientific career continued and over the next few years his international fame as a Physicist grew. By 1960 the Pakistan government had faced down the Islamists who opposed Salam and had appointed him scientific advisor to the government, and Salam was instrumental in setting up the Pakistan’s nascent nuclear energy programme.

Pakistan’s nuclear programme had taken on a critical importance in 1972 as Pakistan became aware of the advanced stage of India’s secret nuclear weapons programme. Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto the Prime Minister appointed Salam to head up a team of scientists to develop a nuclear deterrence to the emerging Indian nuclear threat. Salam would have remained at the head of that programme and overseen the entire project had fate once again not intervened.

The charismatic Bhutto had for some time been touting himself as the leader of the Muslim world. The attendance of all the heads of the Islamic world in Lahore, Pakistan at the 1973 Islamic Conference was Bhutto’s crowning glory. To further endear himself to Islamists Bhutto decided to bow to the demands of the islamofascist Jamaat i Islami in their demand for Ahmadi’s to be declared a non-Muslim minority. In 1974 the National Assembly of Pakistan controversially declared Ahmadi’s non-Muslim, and amended the constitution of Pakistan accordingly. For Ahmadis in general and Salam in particular this was a grave injustice and insult, and Salam felt his position untenable and resigned his government position.

Whilst the 1974 amendment in Pakistan’s constitution was without doubt a turning point in Salam’s life. The events of 1974 had a far more cataclysmic effect on the future course of Pakistan. For the first time in Pakistan’s nascent history the Islamists had scented blood and having made the government bow to its demands were at last, in the ascendancy.
A.Q Khan was born in Bhopal, India and unlike Salam was an immigrant to Pakistan and migrated to the new nation with his family at the time of the partition of India. The journey to Pakistan as a refugee was a traumatic one and it clearly had a profound effect upon Khan who developed a lifelong hatred for India. He grew up in a devoutly Muslim household that held orthodox Sunni views. His cause has been championed by Mullahs of the Deobandi school of thought, and they have always acclaimed him as one their own. His life had much in common with one of his later patrons the dictator Zia ul Haq. Both were refugees from India, and adopted the Deobandi creed of Islam. Khan’s academic achievements did not enjoy the stellar trajectory of Salam, and he rose up the ladder of academia with modest results and eventually became a Metallurgist by training.

Khan’s career took off after a spell in the Netherlands working for FDO & URENCO, both companies specialising in work relating to the nuclear industry in general and the building of centrifuges in particular. Considerable controversy surrounds Khan’s work in the Netherland’s with claims that on the pretext of translating highly confidential documents relating to the building of nuclear centrifuges Khan secretly copied these designs and took them with him to Pakistan. This led to a court in the Netherlands convicting him in absentia for industrial espionage .Khan was without doubt a talented Metallurgist, but arouses considerable fury amongst nuclear scientists in Pakistan who refuse to acknowledge his title of “father of Pakistan’s nuclear bomb”. A mantle that Khan is more than happy to accept and takes great pride in recounting his own central role to the nuclear programme at fawning Islamist gatherings.

A turning point in Khan’s life was the 1971 debacle leading to the break-up of Pakistan, and the ascendancy of India as nuclear armed nation. He had by this time started to court Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto and assured him that he could deliver a viable nuclear weapons programme. Khan aroused fury and suspicion amongst other nuclear scientists in Pakistan but through a mixture of conspiracy against the Pakistani nuclear establishment and displays of extreme antipathy towards India he was able to find patronage amongst the military elite. By the time Zia took over the country Khan had become the nuclear weapons programme supremo and had sole charge of the weapons programme and specifically the building of nuclear centrifuges. Khan had persuaded Zia to remove his programme from oversight of the civilian Pakistan Nuclear Energy Commission (PNEC), and instead had brought in the army’s Corps of Engineer’s as his partners in development.
Little is known about when exactly Khan began his nuclear proliferation programme suffice to say that it would seem that there were little or no checks and balances or civilian oversight of Khan’s activities. By 1998, following the successful testing and explosion of a nuclear device at Chagatai, Khan was acclaimed a national hero and crowned the father of the nuclear bomb by a wildly exuberant and patriotic Pakistani populace.

Khan’s acclaim and adulation would later come to a crashing halt as the full extent of his proliferation was exposed to Pakistan and the world in general. Pakistani’s were bewildered by the public humiliation of Khan and his fall from grace to general ignominy. Islamists in particular, who regarded Khan as one of their own, were quick to claim evidence of a western plot to tarnish the reputation of a national hero. The fact that the national hero has now admitted that he personally delivered bag loads of cash & diamonds to various military officers seems not to trouble the Islamist zealots who regard it as a wider conspiracy against the world of Islam.

Salam was a Pakistani patriot throughout his life who despite having lived in the UK for many years refused to take up British citizenship. For as he told my father, if the day came that he was ever awarded the Nobel Prize he wanted the honour to go to Pakistan. He regarded himself a Muslim and part of the Muslim Ummah and upon receiving the prize in Stockholm recited verses of the Quran during his acceptance speech dressed to the hilt in full Pakistani national dress. He was buried in Pakistan and his gravestone was inscribed with the words describing him accurately as the first Muslim Nobel Laureate. The government of Pakistan instructed that the word Muslim be erased leaving the nonsensical inscription describing Salam as the first Nobel Laureate.

The lives of both Professor Abdus Salam & A.Q. Khan are linked inextricably with Pakistan’s nuclear programme. Both represented the two faces of Pakistan and its twin curses. Whilst Salam fell victim to the adoption of a virulent and pernicious version of Islam that countenanced nothing but it’s own Deobandi/Wahabbi orthodoxy. Khan fell victim to the curse of corruption that afflicts modern day Pakistan.
Had fate not intervened with Pakistan’s lurch to religious extremism and the adoption of obscurantist Islamist ideology Salam may have led Pakistan towards a renaissance in scientific excellence and the adoption of a nuclear energy programme that not only provided the deterrence that Pakistan so desperately craved but a civilian nuclear programme that would have solved Pakistan’ energy crisis.

Instead the Metallurgist and future nuclear proliferator A.Q Khan was instrumental in giving Pakistan the bomb, but at the same time betrayed its national interest for that most venal of reasons – a bag full of cash & diamonds.

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